Philip Pinsky on composing for theatre

Screen-Shot-2013-08-06-at-10.52.46-AM-227x300Philip works extensively in theatre and other media in the UK and overseas.  For five years he was Associate Artist at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh providing scores for more than half of their output during that period.  He won the Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland 2005 for best use of music in theatre and a Sony Music Award for Extraneous Noises Off (BBC Radio 3).

How did you first get involved in composing music for theatre?
Cinema soundtracks have always interested me. When I started a band during my teenage years, we always incorporated a cinematic element. About 15 years ago, having been in the band for almost 20 years, I was looking for other ways to make music. I wrote scores for a couple of independent films and this lead on to me being asked to do the music for Grid Iron’s Decky Does A Bronco in 2000.  SInce then writing music for theatre has become my main occupation.

What has been your most successful theatre project so far? For what reason?
I couldn’t pick one show as the most successful.  Both The List and Age of Arousal for Stellar Quines  were successful award-winning shows.  Roam and Fierce for Grid Iron likewise.  For size of audience and theatrical spectacle, it would probably have to be Christine, La Reine Garçon at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal, and then touring Quebec, Canada. My favourite show, for it’s ambition and diversity, was Stellar Quines and Imago’s ANA, which played in Quebec and Scotland.

A recent theatre project of yours was composing music for Chaos and Contingency by Janis Claxton Dance. The performance at the National Museums  Scotland filled the venue during this year’s Science Festival. Has this brought you any international recognition?
Not that I am aware of, though sometimes things follow a long time after the event.  Most of the work that I have done abroad has been through contacts here.  For theatrical and dance performances, the audience is often unaware that there is a specially commissioned score for the work.

What/who inspires you? 
My inspirations are wide-ranging and eclectic.  In recent years, for theatrical productions, I have researched music from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India, alongside Romany, Klezmer, Iberian and Scottish traditional cultures. Western classical music is also a big influence, from pre-Baroque up to the present day.  I often find myself returning to Stravinsky. I come across little in modern music that he wasn’t doing a hundred years ago.

How did you first get involved with Stellar Quines?
Jemima Levick, then an associate at Stellar Quines,  asked me to do the music for Baby Baby. The show was made in Shetland, the first professional theatre show made there. Our stay on Shetland included the Up Helly Aa festival and some very hair-raising flights to and from the island.

How did you go about creating the sound for The List?
I do most of the work in rehearsals.  It is very much an instinctual thing.  With a piece like The List, the scoring is of a cinematic nature.  You are not necessarily aware of its presence, but it supports the dramatic intentions of the play.  The main theme uses a whole tone scale.  It is neither major or minor, and sounds both “clear” and “unclear” in equal measure, luminous and hazy at the same time.  I thought the emotional neutrality of such a theme would suit the play, adding depth, but not overtly telling the audience how to feel.  Any score that I produce is a combination of what the director and I feel would best suit the play and of my own compositional interests.